Making Disciples in Transient Communities
The world is on the move! Millions of people are moving at any given time in a multitude of directions. In today’s fast-paced world of globalization, not even national boundaries slow people down. According to United Nations statistics, more than 200 million people were living outside of their home country in 2010. The world is increasingly on the move as international companies form in increasing numbers, as relationships between nations demand larger embassy staff, as military personnel and their families are stationed in overseas postings, as graduate students seek higher education at international universities, and as migrants and refugees seek better living conditions across national borders.
No one knows for certain exactly how many millions of expats are moving around the world today, but the increasing numbers present tremendous opportunities and challenging implications for those who minister to expats in international congregations. An estimated 1,000 English-language congregations are serving people all over the world. These global people, living in local areas or “glocal” communities, are unique congregations. These international churches function primarily in the English language and have the majority of their people from other countries. These global people, living in local areas or “glocal” communities, make unique congregations. They have a multi-cultural diversity with a greater global perspective than typical congregations in their home countries. International churches have two main distinctives. They are very international (multi-cultural), and most of their members are transient. Transient members typically know when they arrive that they will be in that city for a short period of time. They know they are not permanent residents, and they know it from the beginning. There is a distinct sense of the temporary; they are sojourners.
This transient reality of the international church presents challenging implications in every area of church life and in every task of the church’s mission. One international pastor put it this way, “It is like pastoring a parade!” It is imperative that disciple-making endeavors be approached with the transient nature of the international church in mind. It is critical that those who minister in international settings understand the need for contextually appropriate approaches to disciple making in transient communities. Those ministering in international settings must learn to disciple the moving target.
A DISCIPLE-MAKING ETHOS
The God-designed motive for mankind is to bring Him glory. Making disciples is the mission that flows from that motive. Christ came to make disciples and commanded the church to do the same. Making disciples is the mission of the church.
Jesus’ ministerial disposition was to make disciples. Jesus taught and healed and served people, but His underlying and predominant purpose was to make disciples. Christ made disciples and expected them to reproduce by making other disciples. Paul’s natural and prevailing tendency was to help others grow toward maturity in Christ, in other words, make disciples. Making disciples was the dominant mission for both Jesus and Paul.
For a church to effectively make disciples, disciple making must be the highest priority for that church. The senior pastor of the church must be an advocate of discipleship. It requires a church culture in which the concepts and practice of disciple making permeate everything the church does. All ministry programs must be intimately aligned with and supportive of discipleship outcomes.
A “disciple-making ethos” is necessary for any church that wishes to be highly effective in making disciples. The disciple-making mission should be the underlying sentiment that informs all the beliefs and practices of the church. It should be the dominant disposition of the church. A church with a disciple-making ethos as the prevailing characteristic of the culture of the church would have the greatest probability of effectively making disciples.
A TRANSIENT COMMUNITY CONSCIOUSNESS
Churches desiring to make disciples in transient communities must maintain a “transient community consciousness.” Churches of transient communities need to be fully aware of and sensitive to the dynamics of transient people and contextualize their approach to disciple making accordingly.
Jesus was conscious of the transient nature of His relationship with His disciples. He had a limited time to make and develop disciples. Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me” (John 7:33). He used the time He had to prepare His disciples to carry out and expand His mission after His ascension into heaven. Jesus took the transient nature of His relationship with His followers into significant consideration as He developed His disciples.
The Apostle Paul likewise was aware of his temporary time with those he discipled. Paul’s spiritual parenting approach resembled foster parenting. He assessed the maturity of those he discipled and provided them with the appropriate level of parenting needed to move them further toward full maturity in Christ. Those Paul discipled either moved on to be further discipled by someone else or to begin discipling others or both.
There are several characteristics of the transient community that should be taken into consideration for effective disciple making, but the predominant characteristic is that transients only live in that community temporarily. Churches endeavoring to make disciples in transient communities need to capitalize on the transient reality. Transiency needs to be seen as a positive and not a negative dynamic. The church needs to stop viewing people’s departure as losing people and start viewing it as an opportunity to intentionally send people on mission.
While churches in the U.S. struggle to keep their back doors closed in order to keep people in the church, the transient community needs to open the exit doors wide and strategically send people. Effectiveness needs to be measured more by sending capacity than seating capacity. The transient church needs to operate according to the constant flow of the transient community and develop effective access, growth, and exit strategies for disciples.
Intentional movement in disciple making is absolutely necessary. According to Scripture a disciple’s life is to be transformed more and more. People are not supposed to remain the same over time. There should be progression and movement.
Jesus’ pattern of disciple making facilitated intentional, progressive movement. Jesus used a pattern that moved disciples through assimilation, transformation, and mobilization. It was systematic, developmental, and progressive. Jesus began with the end in mind, and everything He did with His disciples purposefully moved them toward that end. Jesus’ pattern was sequential in nature and integrated throughout.
In The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman describes Jesus’ pattern of intentional movement as an eight-step disciple-making model. The first step was selection. Jesus called a few men to follow Him. Association was the second step. Jesus spent time with His disciples. The third step was consecration. Jesus required their obedience. Impartation was the fourth step. Jesus gave Himself to His disciples. The fifth step was demonstration. Jesus showed His disciples how to live and minister. The sixth step was delegation. Jesus assigned work for His disciples to accomplish. Supervision was the seventh step. Jesus followed up on the disciples’ efforts. The final step was reproduction. Jesus expected His disciples to reproduce themselves.
One of the clearest models of intentional movement is the purpose-driven model. In The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren describes the two simple concepts that the purpose-driven model is organized around: the circles of commitment and the life development process. Warren says, “The goal of the church is to move people from the outer circle (low commitment/maturity) to the inner circle (high commitment/maturity).”
An assimilation, transformation, mobilization process should form the framework for making disciples. Both in the context of personal and corporate disciple making the process should help move disciples along with intentional, developmental, progressive movement. It is not enough to have discipleship programs or activities. All ministry programs and activities must be aligned and sequential and facilitate movement toward maturity in Christ. Without movement, the church is just running ministry programs, and the programs are an end to themselves.
Disciple making is most effective in the context of genuine and personal relationships. Jesus and Paul both illustrated the effectiveness of focusing on the few. In the context of genuine personal relationships both Jesus and Paul were able to adapt their discipling to the needs of their disciples. The personal relationship is more organic than the classroom and affords itself to adaptability and tailoring to fit the needs of individual disciples. Programs and classrooms are typically synchronized and regimented. Disciple making in the context of personal relationships can be personalized and customized. The smaller the number of people, the more flexibility there is to personalize the discipling. From a purely logistical perspective it is much easier to schedule meetings between two or three disciples than to schedule classes to accommodate dozens of people at the same time.
The curriculum for Jesus’ and Paul’s disciple-making process was the teaching of God’s Word and modeling it in their life and ministry. This teaching-modeling approach is best accomplished in the context of personal relationships. Programs tend to be focused on information. Relationships can be focused on intimacy and accountability. This is more likely to lead to greater internalization, transformation, and ultimately multiplication.
While disciple making is more effective in the context of relationships than in programs, there needs to be some programmatic elements. There should be sequenced knowledge and skill acquisition. There should be a systematic approach to learning doctrinal content and developing spiritual disciplines. This should all be done in the context of personal relationships for the most effective transformation to occur.
With the transient nature of the international church in mind, these four principles point to our greatest opportunity for effectiveness. First, disciple-making processes should be motivated and supported by the church’s disciple-making ethos. Second, disciple making should be designed and carried out with a transient community consciousness. Third, the most effective disciple making will facilitate progressive, intentional movement leading to transformation. And fourth, genuine and personal relationships are the context that lead to the most effective disciple making.
Darryl Evetts, Director of Church Multiplication
C.A.L.L.E.D. is a simple, reproducible, and transformational process for disciple making. It describes a flow for a disciple-making conversation and emphasizes our role as equippers and disciplers.
C = Celebrate. Start with celebrating what the Lord has done in you, around you, or through you. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
A = Accountability. The goal of accountability is to encourage the disciple(s) as they strive to be faithful to what they’ve heard the Lord tell them to obey. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
L = Learn it. Utilize a Discovery Bible Study together, giving the Holy Spirit room to “teach you all things and…remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). What a joy this part is, taking time to discover what a passage says and what it means.
L = Live it. This is where the disciple learns to be still and wait, listening to discern the Spirit’s leading. This is the most important part of the process, so don’t rush it. The disciple will listen to the Lord and write down what his or her faithful response to the passage will look like.
The E. and D. emphasize our role in the context of a genuine relationship with those we disciple.
E = Equipper. We want to equip others with experiences, skills, and tools for their journey with Jesus and their journey of discipling others.
D = Disciple. Our role as a disciple is to come alongside the other person(s) in a life-on-life relationship always encouraging them to become more like Jesus.
Developed by Shawn Sullivan, Crossbridge Community Church, San Antonio, Texas.